Monday, September 16, 2013

The Human Race

There was a time when I believed racism did not exist. There was a time when I thought people in my social class, in my town, in my neighborhood, in my family could never possess the capacity to be racist knowingly or unknowingly. There was a time when I thought it was just a non-issue in my life. I'm hesitant to write on this subject, but part of me feels that I need to record these feelings somewhere.

When I was a child, my mother's mission in raising me was to raise me to be perfect. An ambitious task that clearly failed, as no one can obtain perfection. However, her attempts were not fruitless and my parents certainly got a few things right. Somehow they taught me to love people. I was painstakingly encouraged to find the good in everyone, to treat them well, and to love each one. As a child I would befriend anyone, it never mattered if they were small, large, boy, girl, black, brown, "cool," or "weird." I lived in a nearly homogeneous town - approximately 95% white. Race was never a big deal because there wasn't much of it. Of the handful of non-whites in my class, all of them found a crowd to belong to. I never experienced or witnessed discrimination. College was another near-homogneous environment and life continued as it always had. My husband and I met a week before I turned 18 the first full day of orientation at our undergraduate university. We became friends and we shared friends we had in common. He was black and I white, but I never noticed. It was just something seen but not processed - it didn't matter.

I had a moment when Howie and I both seriously entertained the idea of dating. The thought first crossed my mind: "Oh, he's black... does that matter? What will my parents think? What will my friends think?" To this point I had never met an interracial couple, I had never faced this concept, and while my instincts about befriending people bore no colored glasses, I consciously entertained the idea for a moment. What did this mean? For all my parents hard work to raise me right, to raise me blind to this taboo social constraint, I had a moment in which I hesitated. I consciously took the issue and made a decision about it in that moment. If race never meant anything to me for the first 19 years of my life, I was not going to let it affect me now. It was stupid and superficial, especially when a deep love for that person was already nesting in my soul.

I was 19 when racism first grazed my life.

Our dads were not so keen on our black/white-ness at the beginning. It was a stress that became a part of our first months of dating. It didn't take convincing, per say; I never had to sit down and explain my reasoning for dating this person to my dad, nor he to his dad. But it did take time and encouragement from our mothers for them to identify the fact that they needed a moment. They needed a moment to consciously hold the question in their minds and face the issue. And unsurprisingly with a little time and patience they both embraced each of us as their children. Perhaps its because they are our dads that it was easier for us to not really take this to heart as a personal attack after it all settled down and to move forward along with them.

We continued living in our relative bubble of life, which did not include racism. Surrounded by our peers in age, education, and socioeconomics, we remained a part of a homogenous society.

Sadly, just 15 days before our wedding day racism struck again.

We received a message on our wedding website from an anonymous source criticizing our interracial union. Its unknowable if it was a family member, a friend, or a random passerby to our site who felt it their moral obligation to butt into business that is not their own. But the message was racist and did just what racism is meant to do - incite insecurity and inferiority. The author made a series of points including "a person truly secure with themselves instinctively wants their children to look like them," "you're the beautiful young lady you are because your parents and grandparents respected the fundamental to marry within their own heritages," "sure you and Howie can be friends, but raising a family is serious business and you should marry within your heritage especially since our kind is quickly becoming a minority," and finally ending with the statement that "your friends and family are ready to support you in your decision to cancel this event [meaning my wedding]. Sincerely, A Friend."

I was, needless to say, shocked. Stunned. Speechless. I was reeling with disbelief, anger, and insecurity. My inner monologue was practically on speed with spite and sarcasm... Well clearly, I am so insecure that I would like to hide my genes behind the dominant black genes that are sure to take over. I'm certain my children won't look one bit like me after those genes have done their work. And yes, only white European mutts are beautiful, clearly people like Halle Barry, Alicia Keys, and Mariah Carey are not beautiful. Who talks about "heritages" anyway... and does this person realize I'm a mix of at least 5 different Caucasion "heritages" from across western to eastern Europe all the way up to Russia? Good job, ancestors, for marrying only within your own. Maybe "our kind" becoming extinct isn't so bad if it means narrow minded people like you become extinct with them. Signed a Friend? A Friend? What kind of "Friend" is this. And do they realize the wedding is in 15 days... If you are such a concerned friend, then why now after I've been engaged for almost 3 years. They better not be invited to the wedding, and if they are, they better not be coming. What if they are coming, what if they say something at the mass? What if this "friend" feels the need to make a scene, or say something to my parents or me in person? 

My initial anger gradually changed to anxiety. I promptly removed the post from the website in my wild desire to attempt to make this issue now disappear. But the feelings remained and the words continued to sting my memory. It wouldn't disappear. And I knew that it wouldn't disappear as the anxiety swelled and the fear of hearing someone agree compelled me to keep this quiet and secret from most everybody.

It was troubling and challenging to deal with, partly because it was something I had never dealt with or witnessed (at least to my knowledge I had never witnessed it). I had developed a distrust for my extended family and friends and a sense of resentment toward my own race. In fact, I felt my race had been taken away... or rather that I was giving it up. I didn't want to be seen as white anymore. I didn't want to belong to a race, a group of people that, for all the hurts it caused and supposedly regrets still carries on with the same haughtiness and sense of superiority and entitlement that enabled itself to commit those prior crimes in the first place. Not to say all whites are the same, surely many would never feel those feelings. But in that moment and the following days, I was facing the inferiority and insecurity created by a racist note from and unknown party. I felt like the world was against me and I didn't realize it was a conspiracy until too late - I felt like I was walking into a trap, that my wedding was a set up and all I loved and knew would crumble. I no longer felt like the blissful outsider I once was. My ideals about society and the human race had been stripped from me. I thought we had finally figured out that being part of the human race was enough to unite us, at least here in my American, educated, middle class bubble it should be enough -- it should be enough, right? We should know better. Perhaps I should have known better...

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